Tornado-slammed parts of Kentucky face long recovery

Volunteers, mostly employees from the Mayfield Consumer Products factory, help salvage possessions from the destroyed home of Martha Thomas, in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the region several days earlier, in Mayfield, Ky., Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky’s death toll from tornadoes that ripped through the state over the weekend remains unchanged at 74, but more than 100 people still are unaccounted for, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

Beshear said the ages of those who have died range from two months to 98 years old, with children making up 12 of the deaths.

“We still definitely are in rescue and recovery. We have people missing,” the governor told reporters at a midday briefing. “I still expect that we will find at least some more bodies; there is just so much destruction.”

The number of Kentuckians who still missing climbed to 122 on Tuesday, up from 109 Beshear's office provided on Monday. 

For now, there is no estimate on the damage from the violent storm that crossed Kentucky Friday night into Saturday morning, but it will be “enormous,” Beshear said.  

There have been 21 deaths confirmed in Graves County – the most in the state – with eight of those at a candle factory operated by Mayfield Consumer Products. The factory’s workers included work-release inmates.

Beshear said cadaver dogs scouring debris last night have not indicated additional bodies. He said the factory owners believe everyone working in the facility have been identified.

NBC News reported Monday that five employees of the factory said supervisors told workers they would be fired if they ended their shifts early. A company spokesman denied those allegations, calling them “absolutely untrue.”

Beshear said he had not heard “direct accounts” of those claims, but he said the Kentucky Labor Cabinet will investigate the deaths at the factory. That kind of investigation is standard for workplace deaths, he said, and could take about six months to complete.  

“It shouldn't suggest that there was any wrongdoing,” he said. “But what it should give people confidence in is that we'll get to the bottom of what happened, and once the investigation is complete to be transparent about it.”

Beshear said Kentucky State Police ask all employees of the candle factory to go to His House Ministries Church at 1250 Ky. 303 in Mayfield to help account for all of the workers. They also can call 888-880-8620 if they can't come in person.

Asked whether companies need to revisit severe weather plans, the governor said that “after seeing a tornado like this I think we all ought to look back at protocols, and any time you lose 74 people statewide let's see what we can do better.”

Elsewhere, Beshear said 17 people have died in Hopkins County; 15 in Warren County; 11 in Muhlenberg County; 4 in Caldwell County; 2 in Marshall County; and 1 each in Franklin, Fulton, Lyon and Taylor counties. Eight haven’t been identified or their names have not yet been released.

In Muhlenberg County, all 11 deaths were in the 300-person city of Bremen.

“These are people that they know, they are related to, they go to church and school with,” said Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who toured the area. “I doubt that, you know, there were many people who didn't know or were related to someone who suffered a loss.”

Beshear said his uncle, who was from Muhlenberg County, lost two cousins in the tornadoes. 

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